Opinion

Underpasses to where?

It’s amazing what a casual conversation at the recent National Ploughing Championships can throw up. A case in point was me hearing from a number of acquaintances that dairy farmers in some parts of the country are now intent on putting in underpasses.

This is to allow them to join up land divided by major roads for grazing purposes.

Supposedly, this is one way of meeting the need for larger grazing blocks on those farms committed to the expansion of their dairying enterprises.

My direct response to such ideas can be summed up in two simple words: What folly?

For the record, Ireland’s dairy manufacturing sector has put its money where its mouth is by investing in the additional processing capacity required to deal with all the extra milk coming its way over the next few years. And this commitment must be applauded.

No one doubts that the Harvest 2020 growth target will be met. The question is: How will it be produced?

To date there seems to be a high degree of acceptance that all the additional milk will come by way of the Teagasc ‘grazing’ blueprint.

This approach might work in a number of areas in south Leinster and Munster. But, in my opinion, it’s an absolute non-starter across the rest of the country.

Poorer soil conditions and a wetter climate will see to that. For the record, it has hardly stopped raining in some areas – in any meaningful way – for the past two months. And such a phenomenon is not that unusual in this part of the world.

Don’t get me wrong; the scope to produce more milk from grass across Ireland as a whole is immense. But not every Irish dairy farm is located in Cork, Limerick or Tipperary.

Nor has every Irish dairy farmer, seeking to increase output, the extra land at his or her doorstep to allow the seamless expansion of that all-important grazing platform.

So what is the solution? It will stick in the craw of most Teagac advisors for me to point this out, but Northern Ireland may have the answer to the dairying dilemma now facing the rest of the island. 

The reality is that in ‘Nordy Land’, where milk production has increased by 50% and more over the past decade, a high proportion of this additional output has been secured from grass silage and the feeding of additional concentrates.

Tying in with this is a commitment, on the part of all the northern processors, to pay a decent milk price.

The reality is that a significant proportion of the Harvest 2020 dairy target – and almost certainly the additional objectives set for 2025 – will be achieved through the feeding of extra concentrates.

And I see no reason why compounders should not kick-start a public debate now, involving Teagasc and other stakeholders, on this issue.